Not all business lunches are created equal.
When you have lunch with coworkers, it’s predominately a social affair. When you have lunch with your boss, it’s more professional, though you still know each other reasonably well.
But what about when you’re asked to lunch by your boss’s boss?
Maybe it’s just lunch — or maybe it’s the start of something big for your career.
If you are eager to capitalize on this potentially significant opportunity, here are three principles to keep in mind:
1. Prepare to answer “What could we do better?”
When you have lunch with your boss’ boss, you’ll almost certainly be asked if there’s anything the company could be doing better. This can be a tricky question to answer. You don’t want to go overboard with your concerns, but you also don’t want to say that there are no problems at all. Instead, think of this as an opportunity to get feedback on an idea.
For example, if you’ve noticed an opportunity to improve your company’s customer service, you could frame your concern as an idea for improvement — rather than just a gripe. This is a great opportunity to show that you’re committed to improving the company.
2. Ask the right questions
You also need to prepare questions to ask. This lunch is a great chance to build a foundation for a relationship. So, make sure you ask questions that demonstrate your desire to get to know your them as a person, not a position.
And don’t try to impress him/her with your accolades — you’re not interviewing. Instead, ask questions that are the right combination of business and personal. For example, you could ask about some of the best advice they were given in their career, or when they knew they wanted to be in their industry.
3. Drop a hint
While you don’t want lunch with your boss’s boss to be all about business, you also don’t want to miss your opportunity to plant a seed for your future. So, think about what your long-term goals are. How could you casually drop one of those goals into your conversation?
You don’t want to directly ask for something. Instead, you want to plant the seed in hopes that eventually you’ll be in the position to realize the goal.
For example, if you’re interested in working on projects overseas, you could find a way to work in your love of travel and experiencing other countries and cultures.
Fundamentally, a lunch meeting with your boss’s boss is about making a strategically positive first impression. Be positive and friendly, of course. But also, be thinking about how you can lay the groundwork for future opportunities. In retrospect, it could end up being the most important lunch of your career.